“I died that day,” Kaia tells her the truth.
“Kaia - ”
“It was a knee-jerk reaction. Trained to instinct. I didn’t think. I didn’t have any intent. I was just a stupid child, doing what I was told. And I realized as soon as I did it - ” She can hardly breathe through the memory, wheeze the words. “I realized when I heard you screaming. I realized what I’d done. And when you stopped screaming - ”
She has sloshed back to sitting in the ankle-deep waters of the sandbar. She looks up at Elois standing straight, perfectly still, like she has to hold herself back from reaching down to help Kaia even now. Because…
It’s Elois’ voice again, when she speaks to Kaia now. Beneath all the anger. It still has the right timbre. Kaia knows that voice. She knows there’s still love hiding deep, deep, deep down in those notes. In that golden gaze.
“When you stopped screaming, my heart stopped beating. I felt my soul rush out of me like a wave back to sea… I’ve been only an echo of the ocean ever since. A space where a soul should be. The silence in the wake of screaming. The slightest impression on the sand where the wave was once… I’ve been only an echo of you, ever since you left.”
“I didn’t leave,” Elois spits. But even now, it’s a faded hate. There has always been so much love in her, and so much goodness, that she always struggled to hold onto any bad. Kaia can see that the decade between them has left Elois with scars and anger and she has killed men since Kaia saw her last… But there is still a soul as deep and beautiful as the ocean, buried beneath that breast.
“You were chased away,” Kaia agrees.
“By men on horseback. With knives. Thanks to you.”
“The Waight brothers killed my father when he tried to save me.”
“I don’t think I can ever forgive you for that, Kaia. For what happened to me? Maybe. Someday. But for killing my father? No matter how much I… cared… for you… I don’t think I can ever forgive you for that.”
Maybe. And God knows Kaia doesn’t deserve Elois’ forgiveness. But she’s here. Here, physically, in Pöeddae, in Kaia’s castle and court. Here, her soul, trying to save Kaia from herself.
It’s enough to give Kaia the faintest hope that someday, somehow, she will earn back this woman’s trust, perhaps her regard, even the love still lingering in her voice.
Kaia refuses to lose her soul, her love, her only reason life is worth living, twice in one lifetime.
But for now she only nods. She accepts that there is as much hate between them now, at this moment, as there is love. Now is not the time to push them off the razor’s edge, when either side might be an equally likely place to land.